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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 6 in E minor (1947) [37:43]
Dona Nobis Pacem (1936) [34:39]
Blanche Christiansen (soprano); William Metcalf (baritone)
University of Utah Civic Chorale
Utah Symphony Orchestra/Maurice Abravanel
rec. 1966, University of Utah Music Hall (Symphony); Mormon Tabernacle (Dona), Salt Lake City, USA. AAD

What goes around comes around. When the musical virtues of these recordings are as exalted as this then complaints about reappearance will be few and far between. We have heard these versions before. Going way back in time to the era of the LP Dona Nobis Pacem appeared on Vanguard VSD71159 while the Symphony was on VSD71160. In 2004 Paul Shoemaker reviewed a well-packed DVD-A which must have included pretty well all the music by RVW tackled in Utah by Abravanel. I reviewed this disc in the early days of MWI.

The troubled and tempestuous Vaughan Williams Sixth Symphony struck a sympathetic resounding chord with conductors in America or of American origins or domicile. The Fourth and the Sixth found furious enthusiasm variously with Mitropoulos (review), Stokowski (review ~ review) and Bernstein (symphony 4 Sony). RCA, Previn and the LSO were early on the scene with a complete cycle (RCA) and much later a scattering of the less troubled symphonies with Telarc. Abravanel does not sell us short although I still err in favour of the overwhelming EMI version of the Symphony grimly conducted by Paavo Berglund with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Dona Nobis Pacem is distant from the Victorian choral tradition and with all its rugged explosive power and moving poetry still seems modern. Vaughan Williams draws on his literary favourite Walt Whitman as well as the Bible. The music swells into the superbly resonant acoustic of the Mormon Tabernacle. The Whitman recalls Holst's stately sorrow in Dirge for Two Veterans. The Holst is for choir and brass ensemble. Dona was premiered by Albert Coates in 1936, two years after Holst's death. RVW's Dirge is the processional heart of the work. Here William Metcalf is mournful of tone but generally good, as in his chilling 'you may almost hear the beating of his wings' in track 9. The chorus is superb, as is Blanche Christensen who in her great 'Dona's points forward to the composer's Three Vocalises from the very end of his life.

There are helpfully supportive notes by Sidney Finkelstein and full texts for the choral work.

This is an astonishingly good bargain coupling of two grown-up works: one seemingly predictive of the War yet inflected by the experience of the Great War and the other probably influenced by the psychological impact of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That influence also touched William Alwyn's Third Symphony. The sound quality is excellent despite the passage of more than half a century.
Rob Barnett


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